Sunday, September 8, 2013

A challenge to the social structure

     I marvel at the power of the reading from Philemon that was our second reading in today's liturgy.  Talk about a revolutionary challenge to social structure.  Here is the situation.

     Paul is writing to a good friend, Philemon.  When Paul had recently been thrown into prison, he was imprisoned with a young slave named Onesimus, who was the property and  slave of Philemon.  Over the course of their captivity, Onesimus came to know Christ and to accept Paul as a spiritual father.  Paul grew to love this young man as a brother and a son.  When they were released, Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon - I'm sure a challenge to Onesimus but certainly a challenge to Philemon.  That is because Paul tells Philemon that he sends his former slave, now a child of God and a follower of Christ and a son to Paul, back to him as a brother and friend.   The property has now become family.  Inequality needed to give way to equality.  The social order that both had known now was transformed into something new and life changing.  The fear of going back was for Onesimus overcome by the love and assurance of Paul.  Any difficulty that Philemon had in accepting this new arrangement was dealt with in Paul's challenge to accept this new world order because it was right in the Lord and because Philemon owed this to Paul.  Who says that the way of Christ is easy?  Who says that religion is "a piece of cake"?

     The inequality that exists in our attitudes toward others, many of whom we feel are "not like us" or who are held in lower esteem, challenge our understanding of what Christ desires.  Our prejudices need to give way to acceptance.  All of us are brothers and sisters in Christ who share a common dignity and our relationships are transformational of society.   We are called to rebuild our social structures based on the call to love and acceptance found in the Lord Jesus.  Powerful indeed.

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